When Inessa Gayduchik raised her right hand and swore allegiance to the United States of America on Saturday, the experience left her weak with emotion.
“I almost had a tear in my eye,” she said. “My stomach was all, like, butterflies.”
Gayduchik was one of 102 people from 32 countries who became U.S. citizens Saturday at a naturalization ceremony at Mount Tahoma High School.
The event was one of hundreds of “Constitution Day” ceremonies held nationwide held this week in remembrance of the signing of the U.S. Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787.
According to Linda Dougherty, director of the Seattle office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 1,100 immigrants became citizens at 12 Washington locations.
After the ceremony,Gayduchik, 25, said she left her native Belarus in part because of discrimination against Christians there.
“In Brest, I couldn’t get a job or an education,” she said. “There are many more opportunities here.”
Serlamir Hille, 66, a former elementary school teacher from Manila, said she waited 24 years in the Philippines before her immigration papers were at last approved.
“I wanted to fulfill the American dream,” she said. “They say America is the land of milk and honey.”
After six years in Tacoma, Hille hasn’t found America exactly like that, she said, “but it’s a lot better than the Philippines.”
Eugeny Rakhmilevich’s journey to the stage at Mount Tahoma began in St. Petersburg, Russia.
He said he left Russia two years ago because he wanted to try something new and because he wanted more freedom.
“Here is definitely more freedom for everybody,” Rakhmilevich said. “I feel more protected and more free. If you feel something, you not afraid to say.”
Rakhmilevich was one of five active-duty U.S. soldiers who took part in Saturday’s ceremony. He left St. Petersburg alone at the age of 30, without knowing anybody in America.
“I just take a bag and go,” he said.
Once here, he decided to join the Army to improve his English and to speed up the immigration process.
Rakhmilevich is now mortar specialist at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, ready to head to Afghanistan with his unit in November.
Hundreds of people in Pierce County become naturalized citizens each year. But since the 1940s, they’ve had to travel to Seattle for their formal citizenship ceremony.
That changed last year, after Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson successfully pushed to bring a special naturalization ceremony back to Tacoma.
Next year, Anderson says, she’s going to try to attract more spectators to the Citizenship Day ceremony. About 200 people – mostly family members – watched Saturday’s ceremony at Mount Tahoma High.
“This is something that’s really beneficial for everybody to see,” Anderson said.
Anderson, who spoke at the ceremony and remained on stage to shake the hands of new citizens, said she had trouble holding back tears as she watched the joy on people’s faces.
“We spend a lot of time arguing about immigration and citizenship and not enough time celebrating it,” she said.
“This keeps it real. If we don’t have the context – with real people – then the policy debate is just a fight and not a conversation.”